After missing almost a month with a knee injury, news broke Thursday that Kyrie Irving will now miss the entirety of the regular season and playoffs. So, what does that mean for the Boston Celtics moving forward?
If only the real NBA could be like a video game, where you can turn injuries off and teams can live out to their full potential. This wish holds true this year more than any other. NBA superstars DeMarcus Cousins, Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, Kristaps Porzingis, and Stephen Curry have all missed significant time due to injury (or other circumstances…). Now, you can add Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving to that list.
After the All-Star break, nearly every Celtics player was dealing with something that kept them out of the lineup. Jaylen Brown took a nasty fall in Minnesota that resulted in a concussion. Jayson Tatum missed a few games with a sore knee. Al Horford dealt with a nagging ankle injury. Terry Rozier just missed his first ever basketball game due to injury. Marcus Morris has missed extended time with his own ankle injury. Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Hayward (99%) have been ruled out for the year. Are the Boston Celtics holding a “Who can hurt the most body parts” contest in the locker room postgame?
But still, the Celtics were staying afloat. Brad Stevens was carrying a bandaged and limping group of hospital patients to the second seed in the East. The hope was that Kyrie would come back for the playoffs and everything would be okay. The team we saw lead the East for months would return right when the postseason began.
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Well, it turns out the Celtics playoff rotation will be more like what we saw in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Irving will miss the rest of the season and the entire playoffs. He will not wear a Boston Celtics uniform until next season begins.
What happens now?
So, if you’re counting at home, that means the Celtics will be without two starters and two rotational players from the start of the season. Along with the other nagging injuries, things do not look very promising. In just over a week, the playoffs will begin and the Celtics will be trotting out a lineup of Rozier-Brown-Tatum-Horford-Baynes (if no one else gets hurt, vaporized or run over by a train, anything could happen at this point).
A tough road ahead
I want to have confidence in the Boston Celtics, I really do. But Irving had to be the best player in a series for the Celtics to win or have a chance of winning. Now, with this lineup, do the Celtics even have the second best guy in a first-round series? Or the third best guy in a second-round series? In a draft of the best players, here’s who I would take:
Milwaukee- Giannis, Horford, Middleton, Bledsoe, Brown
Miami- Horford, Dragic, Whiteside, Brown, James Johnson
Washington- Wall, Beal, Horford, Porter, Brown
Cleveland- LeBron, Love, Horford, Brown, Tatum
Philadelphia- Embiid, Simmons, Horford, Brown, Tatum
Indiana- Oladipo, Horford, Turner, Brown, Tatum
In only one of those scenarios do the Celtics have the best player, and Dragic is not that much worse than Horford. In only half of the scenarios do the Celtics have three of the top five guys, and even then Cleveland/Philly have the top two players by far. You always want to be optimistic, but that is nearly impossible right now.
Horford is not going head-to-head with LeBron or Embiid down the stretch in a Game 7 or Game 1 for that matter. As good as he’s been, Rozier will not be outperforming Wall, Simmons, or Oladipo in the playoffs.
The Celtics have to use this run, as short or long as it may be, as just another year of experience for their young players. Just six weeks ago, the phrase “as short as it may be” should have been deleted. The C’s were primed for a playoff run and a deep one at that. Even with Hayward’s injury, everything was there. The East was at its weakest since LeBron went to Miami and the Celtics had the best coach and a potential best player. Now, that dream has ended.
What about next year?
The Boston Celtics can only hope for one thing: next year is the year that Boston takes hold of the Eastern Conference.
Everything always points back to Hayward’s injury. Shortly after he went down, my prediction for the season went from “NBA Finals loss” to “Loss in the Eastern Conference Semifinals”. Then, as Kyrie, Brad Stevens, and company jumped up to number one in the East, the Finals aspirations started to fill my head again. I thought they had a real chance of coming out of the East.
However, doubts started to arise once again. The Cavs dropped down to third in the East and the Celtics dropped to second. Ever since then, the possibility of facing LeBron in the second round did not sound pleasant. Boston needed to take over the one seed or have Cleveland drop to four. No matter how bad Cleveland’s defense gets, anyone would do as much as they could to delay a meeting with The King.
Now Kyrie is injured and none of that matters. Any realistic Finals chances have been slimmed down to a microscopic level.
There is hope
However, there is no reason to get worried. The process that started 5 years ago to bring Boston an 18th banner will be delayed for one more year. But make no mistake about it: the Celtics are going to be awesome next season.
It stinks to be saying that in early April, but ever since that infamous Hayward injury the Celtics have never been at their best. In the 2018-2019 season, as long as everyone comes back healthy, the Boston Celtics have the potential to dominate.
Irving will be coming back with a fire inside of him and something to prove. When he and Hayward finally do team up for a full season, the East better watch out. No matter how long this spring and summer feel, don’t get any less excited for next year’s Celtics season.
Soon, things are going to get ugly for anyone not wearing green.